Theory: why mirrored display is now available for iPad

On the latest episodes of Hypercritical and The Talk Show, both John Siracusa and John Gruber, respectively, pondered the latest Apple iPad feature: video mirroring.

In short: video mirroring allows you to hook up an iPad to a cable connector and project exactly what you see on your iPad screen onto another display device; a video projector, television, and external display are all good candidates for video mirroring. This is what you can do with almost any laptop today.

So why is this a feature now and not sooner? “The Johns” wondered if this could have been a hardware limitation, simply some new software feature, or perhaps a little of both. Arguably, there has not been a hardware limitation for two reasons. First, Apple has had the ability to demonstrate applications during their press and keynote events using mirroring technology. Sure, they could build a special device to accomplish this but that seems unnecessary. Especially since we know the proprietary 30-pin connector has been designed to carry video signals. Second, and more importantly, there have been Cydia applications (for jailbroken devices) available for nearly a year to perform exactly this feature including DisplayOut and ScreenSplitr.

Beyond the how: why is Apple just now making this functionality available to the masses? My theory: subscription content producers.

The programmers of the world are not interested in you using your personal computer to replace your expensive cable subscription viewing habits. Trading in television advertising dollars for internet advertising dimes does not appeal to the businesses. Therefore, a separate iOS experience is created: Hulu Plus for NBC, Fox and friends. At Bat for Major League Baseball.

Success! Apple has created an environment where content can be enjoyed and money can be spent. Despite this past week’s hiccup (enforcing Apple’s 30% cut for in-app subscriptions), content producers can trust Apple to help make money on all devices at all times (and not be tied to someone like Verizon’s Vcast).

Though, by introducing the mirrored display, Apple has now ever-so-slightly started to break the ecosystem they’ve led everyone to jump onto. By allowing iOS content to appear nearly anywhere, including our living rooms, the assumptions that went into building these apps (people can only watch this show on their tiny screen) are now wrong.

This is similar to what Apple accomplished with the iPod and iTunes a decade ago:

  1. The iPod device allowed people to listen to music on something other than a CD, tape or the radio.
  2. This destroyed the music industry. People stopped buying music.
  3. Apple rebuilt the music industry by coupling the device to the store: iTunes.
  4. People buy music from Apple, people buy iPods from Apple, musicians and labels make money.
  5. Apple controls the industry.

Apple knows that televisions are broken. Jobs has admitted that TiVo, Google TV and Roku aren’t even close. There’s no good experience for the user and no good way for anyone to make money. That’s why the Apple TV is just a “hobby”, says the sheep in wolf’s clothes.

Apple is at Step 1 again: allowing people to watch their television and other subscription content somewhere else.This is largely under the guise of allowing businesses and educators a post-PC experience in the boardroom and the classroom. I think they’ve learned from their previous successes, though. Steps 2, 3 and 4 can happen simultaneously with the App Store.

In short, this will not happen overnight like the Napster days of old. The carpet will be slowly pulled out from everyone’s feet (perhaps including Apple’s own developer relationships). The mirrored display feature is just another subtle step in that direction.